Trauma and Addiction
Our core belief is that Trauma and addiction are inextricably linked. As Don Lavender (Camino Program Director) frequently says, ‘One of the biggest contributors to relapse is stress… And one of the biggest contributors to stress is unaddressed or unresolved Trauma’.
A Center for Trauma and Addiction Treatment
With that in mind, Camino regards itself as a center for Trauma and Addiction with an emphasis of dealing with the root cause of the problem.
Our previous article helped us to understand ‘what is Trauma?’ and in this article, we look to understand the relationship between trauma and addiction better.
In dealing with the emotional distress caused by unresolved Trauma coping mechanisms are developed. These mechanisms can be maladaptive (unhealthy/destructive) or adaptive (healthy/constructive).
Adaptive Coping Mechanisms
Adaptive coping mechanisms are a healthy way of dealing with psychological, emotional or physical pain caused by trauma. Typical examples of this would be to take up exercise, meditation or Yoga when dealing with stress or anxiety. These mechanisms contribute to overall wellbeing as well as an opportunity to find the solution to a given problem.
Maladaptive Coping Mechanisms
Maladaptive coping mechanisms are the opposite and invariably contribute to the problem and NOT toward finding a solution. One of the most prevalent examples of maladaptive coping mechanisms is addiction. Typically, an addict will see their addiction as part of the solution to their inner distress rather than part of the problem and this is a key component of denial which is symptomatic of the disease of addiction.
For over a decade the Camino Recovery Centre has been focussed on dealing with the root of the problem rather than the symptoms (maladaptive coping mechanisms).
Outlined below are five of the potential aftereffects of trauma that push an individual toward maladaptive coping mechanisms.
The word ‘co-dependency’ was first acknowledged by Alcoholics Anonymous. This was used when referring to friends and family and their ‘need’ to overhelp the addict. Its definition has significantly broadened over the years and is now understood to mean ‘an unhealthy regard for others’ opinions relative to your own’. That inability to be able to love yourself is a trait in all addicts.
Typically it is identified by many characteristics including
- An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the action of others.
- A tendency to confuse love and pity.
- To do more than ‘their share’ when doing collaborative tasks.
- To be emotionally affected disproportionately when their efforts are not recognized.
Poor Relationship Skills
As children, we develop our behaviors from those around us. The experience of trauma often involves the absence of good role models. Self-worth has been stripped from them as a result. The belief systems will tell them they are not worthy of healthy relationships. Often irrational and unreasonable thought patterns can be adopted from those around them. All of these symptoms lead to an inability to establish healthy, loving and boundaried relationships.
Mental Health Issues
Whilst it is not always the case Mental Health issues are common in Trauma Survivors. It is especially widespread in those that have suffered protracted and prolonged trauma over a period of years. Such trauma adversely impacts their perception of themselves and the world they live in.
The most common diagnoses are
- Depression typically identified by apathy, lack of enjoyment, destructive thoughts (suicide or death) fluctuations in weight or absence of a regular sleep pattern.
- Anxiety A state of constant and disproportionate worry that adversely impacts a persons functionality or general wellbeing.
- Panic disorder Regular panic attacks and the obsessive avoidance of situations that might encourage panic.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder OCD is the inability to control unwanted thoughts, feelings or ideas that manifest themselves in repetitive behavior patterns.
- Addiction An uncontrollable compulsivity to a substance, behavior or thought pattern.
In understanding and addressing shame it is important to differentiate between guilt and shame. Guilt is to feel remorse for an action taken. In associating the remorse with the action it is easier to find steps to ‘correct’ the situation. Shame is more entrenched in what and who we are. In feeling shame, you are acknowledging that is you that is ‘wrong’ and therefore it is far more destructive. Often a trauma survivor perceives that they have done something wrong and are the cause of that trauma. This thought pattern will exacerbate any existing shame and so a vicious cycle begins.
Childhood experiences can lead to a low tolerance for stress and that uncomfortablity around stress can lead to addiction. Often trauma survivors have grown up around conflict either verbally, physically or mentally and that stored memory impacts on their actions when dealing with further unrelated experiences of stress. There is a fundamental inability to manage and rationalize distress.
Whilst this is not an exhaustive list in terms of after-effects they are common manifestations of trauma.
It is important to remember however that Trauma does not necessarily result in Addiction however Addiction almost always results in trauma.
At Camino we also work with those who have suffered Trauma but have not fallen into the jaws of addiction.
About the Author
I was brought up on the outskirts of London and struggled with my own personal addictions over twenty years before finding recovery in South Africa where I spent 10 years before returning to the Uk in 2014. Family bereavement led to a reassessment of my life and a career change. I relocated to Spain two years ago where I have been working at www.caminorecovery.com. at Camino, we are concerned with Addiction, trauma, and anxiety.